"Dracula" - the Royal Winnipeg Ballet - a Review
A review by Rosemary Phillips, January 1999
Chilling. Amazing. Stunning. Shocking and yet graceful. Count Dracula,
weakened by daylight beaming into the dark castle crypt is trapped
by his pursuers. They drive a large stake through his heart and
leave him eerily suspended on that stake to die, and thus free the
world of his vampire terror.
And so ended a magnificent performance by The Royal Winnipeg Ballet
at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo last Thursday evening. Gasps were
heard from the audience as the ballet “Dracula” came
to a dramatic conclusion, all eyes focused on centre stage and the
dying Count, hanging on the stake. As the curtain fell on that spooky
scene, and as hands were raised in thunderous applause, we asked
the question, "How did they do that?"
Therein lies the magic of theatre, casting its spell from the moment
the curtain rises.
Before the curtain rose on “Dracula” my eyes scanned
the audience and I saw many up-and-coming ballet dancers accompanied
by parents and siblings. Their excitement was obvious. They had
been waiting months for this moment. Tickets had been sold out soon
after going on sale in September. And rightly so. The Royal Winnipeg
Ballet represents excellence in dance, Canada's premier ballet company.
I sat remembering my own feelings of going to my first real ballet
performance, “Sleeping Beauty”, with the Royal Ballet
in London, England. In my excitement and fear of missing the bus
to get to the theatre on time I had started sleepwalking. I was
only ten, but the memory of the beauty, drama, and grace will be
with me all my life.
And so it will be with “Dracula”, a magnificent memory
of dance, combining traditional and contemporary ballet with technical
excellence and captivating style. All movement was timely, flowing,
and expressive of character needed to tell the lurid story of Count
Dracula. We were taken from a sea-side estate in England to the
castle in Budapest, following the lives of both those who had fallen
under the vampire's influence, and those who were desperate to put
an end to him.
Relief from the severity of the vampire story came through intermittent
humour in character, and through the comedic pantomime of Act II
which illustrated a condensed, very fast paced narration, of Bram
Stoker's famous novel, “Dracula”.
The sets and costumes designed by Paul Daigle were simple and startling,
and were highlighted by dramatic lighting design by David Morrison.
The neutrality of black and beiges accentuated the vivid red of
Dracula's cape, and blood. Fabrics flowed softly as dancers glided,
flew and gracefully moved through expressive choreography created
by Mark Godden to the music of Gustav Mahler.
The seductive, weak, and dying Lucy was magnificently danced by
Tara Birtwhistle who managed moves that would normally be considered
humanly impossible. Her timing and grace were impeccable. Jesús
Corrales danced and carried himself convincingly as the arch-villain
Count Dracula. Imagine, if you will, dancers portraying through
movement; maids, suitors, a doctor, humorous gargoyles, townspeople,
nuns and vampires. Add the pleasure of seeing a chorus of male dancers
in the Red Dance of Act II, a break from the standard female-only
An additional joy was having one of Nanaimo's own, Gail Stefanek,
return to her home town and perform in front of family, friends,
and future Nanaimo dancers. Her presence and performance was an
encouraging example of what a dancer from Nanaimo can accomplish.
What we saw on stage was a company working together, dancing together
in complete harmony, each complementing the other, supporting each
other. What we saw was true professionalism that a company like
Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet can present. And what an experience
To have a show sold out so many months ahead can only be a sign
that Nanaimo is thirsting for such excellence in performance and
Thanks go to TheatreOne for presenting “Dracula”, and
to the many sponsors of both the “Dracula” tour of the
Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and, the performance at Nanaimo's Port Theatre.
Originally published in the Nanaimo Daily News.
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